Three soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division who were allegedly killed by an Afghan soldier on Saturday have been identified as Sgt. Eric Houck, Sgt. William Bays and Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, according to a Defense Department news release.

They died of gunshot wounds while deployed to Peka Valley in Afghanistan's Nargarhar province, the Monday release said.

"Today, as we grieve, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Cpl. Baldridge, Sgt. Houck and Sgt. Bays.  We take this as a family loss," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, in a separate release.  "In the days ahead, the 101st Soldiers and the Rakkasans will continue the fight against terrorism with unbridled determination. Our Soldiers are battle-hardened and committed to the defense of our nation and the freedoms for which we fight."

Cpl. Dillon Baldridge

Photo Credit: Army

The Taliban claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported, saying one of its fighters had infiltrated an Afghan army. U.S. officials have not identified the assailant who opened fire on the Americans.

Balridge, 22, and Bays, 29, both infantrymen, were members of  D Company, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Baldridge was posthumously promoted to sergeant, and both soldiers were awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster for their actions on the deployment, according to the release.

Sgt. William Bays

Photo Credit: Army

Houck, a 25-year-old forward observer, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He earned Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal with a second oak leaf cluster, the release said.

Their deaths bring the toll of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to six. Both special operations and conventional units have been on the ground in Nangarhar province, fighting an Islamic State affiliate that remains entrenched there.

Sgt. Eric Houck

Photo Credit: Army

Saturday's incident marks the second apparent insider attack in 2017, following March incident in Helmand province, where three soldiers were wounded by an Afghan soldier.

The Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based soldiers were supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel, a counter-terror mission focused on ISIS and al Qaida elements who remain active along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In addition to Operation Freedom's Sentinel, U.S. troops are also in Afghanistan in a train, advise and assist mission with Afghan security forces dubbed Operation Resolute Support.

All told, around 8,000 American personnel are deployed to Afghanistan. The Trump administration is debating whether to increase that number by several thousand, as the Pentagon recommends.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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